By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Flamengo reached the summit of the 2011 national Campeonato Brasileirão tournament last Sunday after four straight wins saw them overtake Corinthians in the top spot. Ronaldinho’s return to form has left Flamenguistas confident Vanderlei Luxemburgo’s men can maintain their lead and lift a seventh national title after taking the state championship earlier this year.
The last two rounds in the tournament saw other Rio sides record a win and a loss each. Consistency continues to elude Abel Braga at Fluminense, while Botafogo thrashed Vasco on Sunday evening to leave them two points off the G-4.
Flamengo continued their surge with a 1-0 victory and a dominant display away to Cruzeiro last Wednesday. Much had been made before the game of Cruzeiro’s recent record of seven straight wins against the Rubro Negro, but on the night all demons were exorcised as Flamengo controlled proceedings from first to final whistle.
The only surprise was they didn’t add to the goal they scored on the brink of half-time. Inevitably Ronaldinho started the move, turning his marker to find Deivid free with a flick of his boot. The burly striker had both time and space to pick his spot and score the winner.
Things were not quite so smooth sailing when Mengão faced Coritiba on Saturday at the Engenhão. A sluggish performance had them heading towards a goalless draw before a last minute Jael header gave them the points to climb to the top.
Before Sunday’s derby, Botafogo’s good form suffered a blip as the Alvinegro lost 2-0 at Figueirense. Caio Junior’s offensive outset created a host of chances for his side, but the coach was tearing his hair out at his team’s lack of precision. Then they more than made up for it on Sunday, thrashing high-flying Vasco 4-0.
Botafogo raced out of the tracks and into a three-goal lead inside forty minutes, Loco Abreu scoring two. The Uruguayan international has added another dimension to Fogão’s attack, and now that their midfield has a recognized focal point, they are becoming more clinical in front of the goal. The second-half resembled something of an exhibition match as they toyed with Vasco, Herrera rounding off the rout in injury time.
Before their drubbing, Vasco earned an excellent 2-0 victory over Santos at São Januario Stadium in Rio. Fast paced pass-and-move football has been the order of the day for Vascainas this season and it paid off against a Santos side drifting from an expected title challenge.
Diego Souza got the ball rolling in just the second minute with a stunning dipping volley that caught Santos keeper Rafael unawares. 23 year-old defender Dede, recently called up to the Brazil squad, was the pillar around which the Vasco defense performed yet again.
He kept Neymar quiet all game and scored Vasco’s second, leaping above Rafael to help put Vasco out of reach. Despite Sunday’s slip-up, the side still look in good stead to challenge for top honors come December.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Abel Braga’s Fluminense. The coach’s tactical naivety cost Flu again at the weekend as the defending champions went down 3-0 at America-MG. Braga sometimes resembles a teenager playing Championship Manager, such is the hopeful set-up of his sides.
A stunning Rodriguinho goal gave America the lead before two second-half strikes underlined Flu’s woeful away form. The result followed an encouraging 2-0 home win against Internacional last Thursday, in which star striker Fred refused to play. Having been spotted drinking in an Ipanema bar on Tuesday night, the player was chased back to his home by furious fans.
He has since suggested it may be time to leave Fluminense, adding another line to Braga’s already furrowed brow. It’s going to take more than pressing a few buttons to dig Fu out of the rut.